Reading food labels in the classroom

Just wanted to make a quick report from the front lines of Fitch Middle School, where I was blessed last week with the chance to develop my own lessons and teach a unit on nutrition.  Nutrition is part of the science curriculum, and because one of the teachers I work with knew my interest in nutrition she allowed me to take her class over for the week.  Believe me, we weren’t just learning about the food pyramid.

On Monday we watched Modern Marvels, a Discovery Channel series, which covered sugar production.  This wasn’t and wouldn’t be my choice, but on Tuesday we unwrapped that propaganda as we shared stories about unbridled sugar consumption and its potential health effects.  We also took a sugar addiction quiz from the book Carbohydrate Addicted Kids.

On Wednesday we played a nutritionist game, where the students had to take over my job and diagnose nutrient deficiencies.  Every student was given a name and a health problem, and they had to go around the room asking all the other students what their problems were and then write down what nutrient was needed.  Here’s the document we used: link.

Anyway, I really just wanted to talk about Thursday.  On Thursday, we learned to read labels using a checklist of things (download it here) like “Does it have hydrogenated oils” or “Are there ingredients you can’t pronounce?”  All of the students had to bring in a label, and I shared some of my own.  The best products we had were whole foods (ie orange, blueberries, etc.), tomato paste, Larabars and other health food bars I brought, and not much else.  The checklist had a total of ten bad things to look for; there were very, very few items under four.

Anyway, here’s the surprising, depressing information about which foods are the worst that I really wanted to share in this article.  All of the cookies, candies, cakes, sugary cereals, etc. tended to rank between five and seven.  Few items broached eight.

Want to know which items scored the worst?  The runners up, with a tie score of nine out of ten, were none other than Fiber One cereal and Nutrigrain Bars.  How depressing is that?  These were the same foods which we had all made the assumption would be among the healthiest.  The Nutrigrain bar ended up in our classroom in the first place because a student, during lunch, asked me if it was healthy.  I wanted the student to find out for himself, so I told him that he should bring it to the label reading activity.  He was shocked.  I don’t care what the advertisements say.  You would be better off eating Snickers than a Nutrigrain bar.  In fact, you’d probably be better off fasting.

And the absolute worst?  At an astounding ten were Quaker Oats Oatmeal breakfast bars.  What a great way to start your day.

My goal with teaching was to give lots of information, but also to use that information in a practical way.  The students might not even remember all of the nutrients we learned about, but they will have a sense that there are different vitamins that can help your immune system, help you build muscle, clean up your body, etc.  Friday was project day, and the students had to choose from a list of 10 or so different projects covering different subjects we learned during the week.  I had plays, poems, stories, timelines, posters, handouts, drawings, comic books, etc.  Lots of good stuff.

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One response to “Reading food labels in the classroom

  1. Thanks Sam. I know so many people who eat the fiber one bars because they are supposed to be “healthier”. I have passed on your info to a few people. I hope you were able to get through to the kids and catch them young to change their eating habits. I also read something the other day that said if your grandmother has never heard of it, dont eat it. I thought that you would like that.

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